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Cockfighting: A bit of history

A bird rests in a cage. Nearly 400 fighting roosters were rescued from a Northampton property late last week and brought to the MSPCA-Nevins Farm in Methuen.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

The seizure of nearly 400 roosters last week at a Northampton farm has cast a spotlight on the violent world of cockfighting. Authorities believe the property was used to train the birds for combat. The adult birds now face euthanization because they cannot be rehabilitated, official said.

Here are four things to know about the history and practice of cockfighting, which is illegal in all 50 US states.

History: The blood sport dates to ancient times and was popular in India, China, Persia, and other Eastern countries before spreading to Greece. Although the Romans at first discouraged cockfighting, they later embraced it. From there, it spread into Germany, Spain, and its colonies, then to England, Scotland, and Wales, where the sport became a favorite of English royalty.

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In the United States, Louisiana became the last state to ban cockfighting in 2007. But it persists as an underground practice sustained by gambling. Last year, authorities swarmed a compound in Los Angeles County and seized 7,000 birds in what officials described as the largest illegal cockfighting cache in US history.

The sport remains legal in Puerto Rico and in such countries as the Philippines and the Dominican Republic, where cockfighting clubs operate around the country.

The birds: The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals says roosters’ “natural fighting instincts are exaggerated through breeding, feeding, training, steroids and vitamins.’’ Breeds selected for cockfighting are known for their durability, strength, and tenacity during bouts. They include the Sweater, Miner Blues, Hatch, and White Hackel breeds. The Old English game, which dates to the Middle Ages, was the first fighting rooster to be bred in Great Britain.

The rules: Rules in this barbaric sport vary by country. But in general, the owners place their gamecocks in a small arena known as the cockpit, where the fighting commences. The birds fight until ultimately one of them dies or is too seriously injured to keep fighting. In some cases, owners attach spurs or razors to the feet of the birds, exacerbating the damage of blows.

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Super Bowl of cockfighting: Every year since 1963, the Philippines hosts the World Slasher Cup, a five-day series of more than 600 matches held in a metro Manila coliseum. The tournament is complete with corporate sponsorships, brightly lit concession stands, and blaring canned music, Slate reported. This year, breeders from the United States, Kuwait, Indonesia, and Malaysia competed for prize money.

Sources: Britannica.com; Los Angeles Times; Slate.com